Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to get financial benefits through his authority to appoint a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama‘s election as president.
According to a federal criminal complaint, Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper’s editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
Blagojevich also was charged with using his authority as governor in an attempt to squeeze out campaign contributions, prosecutors said.
Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, also was arrested.
Federal agents were in Blagojevich’s office in the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago on Tuesday morning.
Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal Operation Board Games involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they’re also investigating “serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” under Blagojevich.
The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday morning that the federal investigation had spread to Blagojevich’s efforts to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by the election of Barack Obama as president.
Political fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges. Blagojevich’s chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, is due to stand trial early next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, took the chief executive’s office in 2003 as a reformer promising to clean up former Gov. George Ryan’s mess.
Ryan, a Republican, is serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. The decade-long investigation began with the sale of driver’s licenses for bribes and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and governor.
This is a Statement From The US Attorney General’s Office
A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife. At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:
A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;
Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;
Promises of campaign funds – including cash up front; and
A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Just last week, on December 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on October 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: “We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”
On November 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an advisor, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting, the affidavit states. Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Blagojevich “politically viable.” Blagojevich stated, “I want to make money,” adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year, the complaint alleges.
Watch News Coverage of the Incident